The Government Subsidized Fisker Hybrid Manufacturer is Liquidating its Assets

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 24th, 2013

Week in Review

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner has had some problems with its lithium-ion batteries.  And now there is an icing problem with its engines.  Which is a bug to fix in their radical new design that eliminated the bleed-air system from its engines.  Reducing weight and increasing the efficiencies of the engines.  Which translates into lower fuel/operating costs.  Making the Boeing 787 Dreamliner a winning economic model.  And why airlines are waiting anxiously to add it to their fleets.  Now contrast this to a losing economic model.  The electric/hybrid car (see Fisker sells its assets to Hong Kong tycoon, files for bankruptcy by Jerry Hirsch posted 11/22/2013 on the Los Angeles Times).

An investor group headed by Hong Kong tycoon Richard Li purchased the federal loan made to Karma plug-in hybrid sports car maker Fisker Automotive and acquired the assets of the nearly defunct automaker.

Fisker has voluntarily filed petitions to liquidate under the U.S. Bankruptcy code, and Li’s Hybrid Technology has committed up to $8 million in financing to fund the sale and Chapter 11 process.

The federal government, which had lent money to the Anaheim auto company under a Department of Energy clean vehicles program, will lose about $139 million on the deal.

“Because of these actions, along with the sale announced today, the Energy Department has protected nearly three-quarters of our original commitment to Fisker,” said Bill Gibbons, a department spokesman.

The all-electric car suffers from range anxiety.  The dread a person feels as they are far from home and their battery looks like it won’t have enough charge to get them home.  Hybrids are expensive.  But carrying around that extra internal combustion engine in addition the electric system makes the car heavier.  And reduces its battery range.  Meaning that if you drive more than, say, a 45-mile round-trip you’ll be using that internal combustion engine most of the time.  Which will burn more fuel than in a gasoline-only powered car.  Because they don’t have the extra weight of the electric system to drag around.

This is why there isn’t a long list of orders for these electric/hybrid cars like there is for the Dreamliner.  For the Dreamliner is what most airlines are looking for in a jetliner for solid economic reasons.  While the electric/hybrid car is more of a novelty.  Few people are buying them.  And because of this they need government subsidies to remain in business.  Whereas Boeing’s strong sales are one of the few things driving the nation’s GDP into positive territory.

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Federal Regulators find no Problem with Tesla Battery Design after one Burst into Flames this Month

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 27th, 2013

Week in Review

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is a state-of-the-art fuel-efficient intercontinental jetliner.  Something that made airlines dealing with razor-thin margins and rising fuel prices stand up and take notice.  This was an airplane that they wanted.  And how did they squeeze these fuel savings out of the Dreamliner?  Well, they used more composite materials than before.  Reducing the amount of heavier metals.  And they eliminated some other ‘heavy’ metal in a way that increased engine efficiency.  By eliminating pneumatic systems and replacing them with electric systems.  Which eliminated the bleed air system that bled efficiency from the jet engines.  And removing all the metal ductwork that piped that hot pressurized air throughout the aircraft.  Such as to the anti-icing systems in the wings.  Which they replaced with electric heaters.

The Boeing 787 is the most electric plane in commercial aviation.  It uses an enormous amount of electric power.  Which requires powerful backup batteries.  Lithium-ion batteries.  That have a very high energy density.  Created from powerful chemical reactions.  Requiring complex controllers to regulate the power, temperature and pressure in the batteries to try and prevent a ‘thermal runaway’.  Especially during charging.  Which happened a few times.  Starting a fire or two.  Prompting the FAA to action.  And grounding the entire 787 Dreamliner fleet because of these high energy density batteries.

Electric cars also use these high energy density batteries.  And some of them have caught fire.  But federal regulators aren’t taking any electric cars off of the street (see Tesla dodges full investigation after fiery crash by Charles Riley posted 10/25/2013 on CNNMoney).

Federal regulators have decided not to open an official investigation into the crash of a Tesla Model S earlier this month that resulted in a fire in the electric car’s battery section.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that while it continually reviews vehicle complaints, the crash had not led to the discovery of any safety faults…

Auto blog Jalopnik posted photos and videos of the Seattle-area accident in early October, showing an electric Tesla Model S engulfed in flames…

Musk’s 560-word post explained the accident in his usual painstaking detail. He said the cause of the accident appeared to be a piece of metal that fell off of a semi-trailer and struck the Model S.

A fire then erupted in the car’s front battery section, but was contained to that area, the CEO wrote. No flames entered the passenger compartment.

Musk also tried to reassure his readers. “There should be absolutely zero doubt that it is safer to power a car with a battery than a large tank of highly flammable liquid,” he wrote.

Well, one thing about our roads.  They are clean as a whistle.  So although there was a piece of metal once there will never be another piece of metal on our roads.  So there is no need to add some heavy metal under the Tesla to protect the battery from pieces of metal thrown up from the road.  Increasing the weight of the electric car.  Decreasing its range.  Further discouraging people from buying them.

If that piece of metal had hit a gas tank it may have dented it.  It may have even caused it to leak.  But it wouldn’t have burst into flames.  As the millions of cars driving on our metal-strewn roads testify to every day.  Gasoline stored in a tank slung underneath a car is pretty safe.  For it’s not what we combust in our engine.  No.  First we must aerosolize the liquid into a vapor.  Mix it with oxygen.  Compress it (greatly increasing its temperature).  Then ignite it with an electric spark.  And only then will it explode.  For an explosion needs heat and pressure.  Which isn’t present in a gas tank under normal conditions.  But they do exist in lithium-ion batteries under normal conditions.  Which is why they explode.  And burst into flames.

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Boeing’s 787 Battery Solution illustrates why the All-Electric Car remains more of a Novelty than a Legitimate Car

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 7th, 2013

Week in Review

The problem with the all-electric car is the battery.  To get a decent range requires a large battery.  But a large battery adds weight.  The heavier the car is the more battery power it takes to drive the car.  Which, of course, decreases the range.  So the only solution to this problem is to come up with a better battery.  One that is smaller and lighter that can charge quickly and provide great range.  Currently, that battery is the lithium-ion battery.  The same technology Boeing used on their new 787 Dreamliner.  Those same planes that showed the drawbacks of getting more energy out of a smaller and lighter battery.  They generate a lot of heat.  And can burst into flames (see Boeing has “good” Dreamliner battery plan fix: official by Doug Palmer and Alwyn Scott posted 4/5/2013 on Reuters).

Boeing Co (BA.N) has a “good plan” to fix the battery problem that has grounded its 787 Dreamliner jets, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said on Friday as the company prepared for a test flight to check the battery system revamp…

It’s still unknown what caused the two batteries to overheat, and the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating. Boeing came up with measures it says make the battery safe. It put more insulation in the battery, encased the battery in a steel box, changed the circuitry of the battery charger and added a titanium venting tube to expel heat and fumes outside the plane.

This is a good fix for an airplane.  For if there is a fire in the battery compartment you want to vent the heat and fumes outside of the airplane.  So the airplane doesn’t catch on fire.  Of course, this solution is not a very good one for an all-electric car that parks in attached garage plugged in overnight.  For there will be no freezing air blowing across that titanium tube like a plane flying at 40,000 feet.  That intense heat just may start the car on fire.  Or the garage.

To increase sales of the all-electric car they need to increase the range.  Even if you’re driving at night in winter with the heater and lights on.  And get stuck in stop and go traffic that adds an hour to your drive-time home.  But to do this you need to put more energy into a smaller package.  Which is often not the safest thing to do.  As Boeing learned.  So until they can come up with a battery that can give people the range to make it home safely without the car (or garage) catching on fire the all-electric car will remain more of a novelty than a legitimate car.

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Boeing’s Problems with Lithium-Ion Batteries illustrates the problem of the All-Electric Car

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 24th, 2013

Week in Review

The greatest cost of all airlines is fuel.  Airplanes that burn less fuel make airlines more money.  And help airlines go from losing money to making a profit.  Aircraft are complex machines.  Full of high-tech stuff.  But one of the best ways to burn less fuel is not all that high-tech.  You just make planes lighter.  One of the ways of doing that, though, is very high-tech.  The new lithium-ion battery.  Which packs a whole lot of energy in a tiny package.  Allowing Boeing to make their Dreamliner just a little bit lighter.  Allowing it to burn less fuel (see Japan Finds Swelling in Second Boeing 787 Battery by Mari Saito, REUTERS, posted 2/19/2013 on the New York Times).

Cells in a second lithium-ion battery on a Boeing Co 787 Dreamliner forced to make an emergency landing in Japan last month showed slight swelling, a Japan Transport Safety Board (JTSB) official said on Tuesday.

The jet, flown by All Nippon Airways Co, was forced to make the landing after its main battery failed…

The U.S. Federal Aviation Authority grounded all 50 Boeing Dreamliners in commercial service on January 16 after the incidents with the two Japanese owned 787 jets.

The groundings have cost airlines tens of millions of dollars, with no solution yet in sight.

Boeing rival Airbus said last week it had abandoned plans to use lithium-ion batteries in its next passenger jet, the A350, in favor of traditional nickel-cadmium batteries.

Lighter and more powerful than conventional batteries, lithium-ion power packs have been in consumer products such as phones and laptops for years but are relatively new in industrial applications, including back-up batteries for electrical systems in jets.

As it turns out it can be a little risky packing a whole lot of energy into tiny packages.  It may make batteries lighter.  But it’s like putting a tiger in a box.  If it isn’t a good box it’s not going to restrain that tiger.  And that’s what sort of has been happening with lithium-ion batteries.  People who bought discount replacement cell phone batteries saw those cheap knockoffs burst into flames.

Lithium-ion batteries have a tendency to burst into flames if they are overcharged.  This is the risk of using concentrated energy.  It’s why they grounded the entire fleet of Boeing Dreamliners.  And it’s why the all-electric car is not practical.  The one battery that gives it a useful range can be a little temperamental.  Like a tiger in a box.

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Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Fuel Costs, Electric Systems, Auxiliary Power Unit and Lithium-Ion Batteries

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 23rd, 2013

Technology 101

Auxiliary Devices reduce the Power Output of the Engine available to Drive a Car Forward

If you’re middle age (or old) you may remember looking under the hood of a car.  When you could see things.  In the days of rear-wheel drive cars and big engines.  The front of the engine had a power takeoff pulley attached to the crank shaft.  The thing the pistons spun when it converted reciprocal motion into rotational motion.  Wrapped around that pulley were a lot of belts.  Sometimes three or more.  They transferred the rotational motion of the crankshaft to auxiliary devices.

These devices included the water pump that pumped engine coolant to remove the heat of combustion.  An alternator to generate electric power.  A power steering pump to make steering easier.  An air pump to inject air into the exhaust system to help complete the combustion process to reduce emissions.  (An electronic air pump has since replaced this belt-driven device.)  And an air conditioner compressor.  All of these devices reduce the power output of the engine available to drive the car forward.  Requiring more fuel.

Today’s cars have a lot more stuff under the hood.  Engines are often mounted transversely.  And the multiple belts have been replaced with one serpentine belt that winds around all of these auxiliary devices.  And engines are smaller.  With on board computers that maximize the power output of smaller engines.  That drive lighter cars.  But one thing hasn’t changed.  When you turn on the air conditioning you can still hear the engine labor under the additional load.  While burning more fuel.

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner can do what other Planes can do while Burning less Fuel

In the airline industry the greatest cost is fuel.  So anything that allows airlines to burn less fuel greatly interests the airlines.  And it’s why pilots do careful calculations to determine how much fuel to carry.  That is, to determine the absolute minimum amount of fuel to carry.  If it were up to pilots they’d top off the fuel tanks.  But if they did that the airlines could not operate profitably.  Because you have to burn fuel to carry fuel.  And the more fuel you carry the more you have to burn.  Increasing your fuel costs to the point an airline loses money.  Especially if you’re landing with a lot of fuel in your tanks.  So pilots load less fuel than they would want.  Because to get a paycheck their company has to operate at a profit.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Not for aircraft designers.

Designers have been using more plastic in airplanes.  Because plastic is lighter than metal.  So engines can burn less fuel.  These composite materials are also stronger than metal.  So less of them can replace equivalent metal components.  So engines can burn less fuel.  Airlines have also been charging more for carry-on luggage.  In part to help offset their rising fuel costs.  And in part to encourage people to carry less onto the airplane.  So engines can burn less fuel.  Then Boeing raised the bar on burning less fuel.

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is a remarkable design.  Remarkable because it delivers what airlines want most.  An airplane that can do what other planes can do.  But does it while burning less fuel.  Boeing has used more composite material than any other manufacturer.  Making the 787 the lightest in its class.  And lighter things allow engines to burn less fuel.  But Boeing did more than just make the airplane lighter.  They used electric systems to replace hydraulic and pneumatic systems normally found on an airplane.

The 787 Dreamliner uses Lithium-Ion Batteries to start their Auxiliary Power Unit

Hydraulic and pneumatic systems bleed power from the aircraft engines.  As the engines drive pumps and compressors for these systems.  By converting these to electric systems more of the power of the engines goes to producing thrust.  Which means they burn less fuel to fly to their destination.  They even replaced the pneumatic starters (that spin the engines during starting) with a combination electric starter/generator.  Saving weight.  And reducing the complexity.  By replacing two parts (pneumatic starter and electric generator) with one (combination starter/generator).

To start the aircraft engines they first start the auxiliary power unit (APU).  The APU is typically mounted near the tail of the aircraft.  The APU provides power, lights, heating, air conditioning, etc., when the main engines aren’t running.  Some provide back up power (electric and pneumatic) should the main engines fail in flight.  The APU also drives an air compressor to provide the pneumatic power to spin the main engines for starting.  Going to all electric systems (except for the engine anti-ice system) removes the air compressor from the APU.  Reducing the weight.  And they further reduced the weight by making another change.  To the battery that starts the APU.

The 787 uses lithium-ion batteries.  Which can provide the same power larger batteries of different technologies can provide.  As lithium-ion batteries has a very high energy density.  But with great energy density comes great heat.  Some of these batteries have actually caught fire.  In electric cars.  Laptop computers.  Cell phones.  Even in Boeing 787 Dreamliners.  They’re not sure why.  And they’ve grounded the fleet until they figure out why.  It may be because they are overcharging.  Or that there are internal shorts causing a thermal runaway (releasing all the stored energy at one time).  Or the caustic electrolyte is leaking and causing a fire.  Until they determine what the problem is the 787 will remain grounded.  Making it very difficult to enjoy the cost savings of that remarkable design.

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Lithium Ion Battery Fires ground entire Boeing 787 Dreamliner Fleet

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 20th, 2013

Week in Review

The big drawback for electric cars is range.  For after a battery powers all the electrical systems (heating, cooling, lights, etc.) what charge is left is for going places.  And if that place is more than 30 miles away few people will feel comfortable taking a chance that they will have enough charge to drive there and back.  Unless that trip is to work where the car can recharge for 8-9 hours while at work.

Range anxiety is the greatest drawback to an all-electric car.  For if you run out of charge there is only one way to get your car home.  With a tow truck.  For you can’t walk to a gas station and ask for a can of charge to pour into the battery.  Charging needs an electrical source.  And time.  So the Holy Grail of the all-electric car industry is a battery that can hold a lot of charge.  But is small and does not weigh a lot.  And can be recharged in a very short time.  Right now that Holy Grail is the lithium ion battery.

But there is a cost for this Holy Grail.  There is a lot of chemistry to do this.  Chemistry that can produce a lot of heat.  Catch fire.  And explode.  Which has happened in some electric cars.  As well as in some airplanes (see Bad Batteries Seen as Best Case for 787 Overcoming Past by Susanna Ray, Alan Levin & Peter Robison posted 1/18/2013 on Bloomberg).

Other aircraft bleed air off the engines for a pneumatic system to power a variety of critical functions, such as air conditioning. That diverts power from the engines that they could otherwise use for thrust, and means they use more fuel.

With an electrical system for the jet’s other needs, the engines become much more efficient. The 787 uses five times as much electricity as the 767, enough to power 400 homes. To jump- start a so-called auxiliary power unit that’s used on the ground and as a backup in case all the plane’s generators failed, Boeing decided on a lithium-ion battery because it holds more energy and can be quickly recharged, Mike Sinnett, the 787 project engineer, said in a briefing last week.

Those capabilities also make lithium-ion cells more flammable than other battery technology, and they can create sparks and high heat if not properly discharged. Chemicals inside the battery are also flammable and hard to extinguish because they contain their own source of oxygen, Sinnett said.

A couple of battery fires have grounded all Boeing 787 Dreamliners.  The last commercial jetliner to receive such an order was the McDonnell Douglas DC-10.   Which happened after an engine came off while taking off at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.  Due to a maintenance error in changing out the left engine and pylon.  Causing the plane to crash.  After investigation they found the slats did not mechanically latch into position.  When the engine ripped out the hydraulic lines the slats retracted and the wing stalled.  The plane slowly banked to the left and fell out of the sky.  Killing all on board.  The DC-10s were grounded worldwide until the hydraulic lines were better protected and the slats latched to prevent them from retracting on the loss of hydraulic pressure.  Now no 787s have crashed.  But few things are deadlier to an airborne aircraft than a fire.  For there is nothing pilots can do other than to continue to fly towards an airport while the plane is consumed by fire.

Stored chemical oxygen generators in the hull of ValuJet Flight 592 were stored improperly.  They were activated.  Producing oxygen by a chemical reaction that generated a lot of heat.  The heat started a fire and the oxygen fueled it.  Once the pilots were aware of the fire they turned to the nearest airport.  But the fire consumed the airplane and fell out of the sky before they could land.  Killing all on board.

Fire on an airplane rarely ends well.  Which explains the grounding of the entire 787 fleet.  Because these lithium ion batteries run very hot when they make electricity.  And they can generate oxygen.  Which is the last thing you want on an aircraft.  However, both Airbus and Boeing are using them because they are the Holy Grail of batteries.  They’re small and light and can hold a lot of charge and nothing can recharge as fast as they can.  Which is why they are the choice for all-electric cars.  Even though some of them have caught fire.  This is the tradeoff.  Smaller and lighter batteries are smaller and lighter for a reason.  Because of powerful chemical reactions that can go wrong.  So to be safe you should park your electric car outside and away from your house.  In case it catches fire you’ll only lose your car.  And not your garage or house.  Or you can stick to the gasoline-powered car and not worry about battery fires.  Or range.

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GE Engine Failures on Boeing’s Newest Aircraft cause Rapid Response and Fix from GE

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 6th, 2012

Week in Review

Airbus built the A380 to compete against the Boeing 747.  In fact, there is a great competition between Airbus and Boeing.  Each even claiming that the other’s government is unfairly subsidizing the other company.  Which is a big deal because Boeing is a large part of total US exports.  Airbus has taken a lot of their business, though.  So they are very protective of their remaining market share.  And will take aggressive action whenever a problem arises that can affect their market share or their profits (see NTSB Urges Action After Engine Failures in New Boeing 787, 747 Airliners by Jason Paur posted 9/17/2012 on Wired).

The National Transportation Safety Board is recommending inspections for all new Boeing 787 and 747-8 aircraft with General Electric engines. The NTSB made the recommendation to the Federal Aviation Administration after two of GE’s newest engines experienced failures in the past few months. Three separate incidents all point to a similar cause for the failures in the engines.

“The parties to our investigation – the FAA, GE and Boeing – have taken many important steps and additional efforts are in progress to ensure that the fleet is inspected properly,” NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said in a statement on Friday. “We are issuing this recommendation today because of the potential for multiple engine failures on a single aircraft and the urgent need for the FAA to act immediately…”

According to the NTSB, GE has developed an ultrasonic inspection method for the fan midshaft that can be used while the engine is still on the airplane. All of the GEnx-1B engines used on 787 Dreamliners as well as spare engines have been inspected. All of the GEnx-2B engines on passenger versions of the 747-8 have also been inspected. There are more than 40 General Electric engines on freighter versions of the new jumbo jet that still await engine inspections and are expected to be completed this week.

The engine maker believes it has found the cause of the cracks and has changed the way the shafts are coated during the manufacturing and assembly process…

Did GE respond like this just because of the NTSB?  No.  They have a vested interest in their engines not failing.  For if they have a reputation of providing bad engines their customers will go someplace else.  Or the flying public will refuse to get on any plane with GE engines.  That’s why GE scrambled to fix this problem.  Because hiding it would have been a bigger hit on profitability.  This is the free market in action.  The market demanded fuel efficient and reliable engines.  Which GE delivered.  And when there was a problem GE responded quickly.  To protect the bottom line.  And their biggest customer.  Who could take their business elsewhere if GE costs them any market share.  For they are not the only engine supplier out there.

Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner can be ordered with either the General Electric or Rolls-Royce engines. Both of the new engines are responsible for a significant portion of the fuel efficiency improvements of the new airplane. And the Rolls-Royce engines haven’t been trouble free. Earlier in the summer the launch customer fo[r] the 787, All Nippon Airways, temporarily grounded its fleet of Dreamliners after premature corrosion was found in the gearboxes of the Rolls Royce Trent 1000 engines.

If this was a government manufacturer you would not have seen such quick action.  Why?  Because if there was a government monopoly for those engines where else could the aircraft manufacturers go?  The NTSB would have grounded all planes.  But there would not have been any urgency in resolving this problem.  As there was no potential for lost profits.  Which there was for GE.  Especially with a competitor in the wings just waiting to take their customers.

Government regulations don’t make aircraft safe.  The fear of losing profits on unsafe planes does.  Which is why people would much rather fly in a Boeing airplane rather than a plane produced under the command economy of the Soviet Union.  For back in the Seventies and Eighties the chances of a plane falling out of the sky were greater with a Soviet-built plane than with a private sector-built Boeing.  It’s the profits earned on safe airplanes that do the most to keep them from falling out of the sky.  Not bloated government bureaucracy.

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